French President Emmanuel Macron has postponed a trip to Germany due to begin on Sunday after a fourth night of rioting in cities across France, as family and friends buried the teenager whose killing by police unleashed the unrest.
The killing of 17-year-old Nahel M. during a police traffic stop this week was a depressingly familiar addition to France’s list of police brutality cases. But when the UN called on the government to address racial discrimination in its police force, the official reaction was just as familiar and depressing for France’s minorities.
The family of Nahel M, a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent who was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday, held a private funeral at a mosque in Nanterre, a Paris suburb.
We are concerned by the killing of a 17-year-old of North African descent by police in France,” UN human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a press briefing in Geneva.
« This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement, » she added.
Shamdasani’s comments echoed innumerable statements released over the past few years by international rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, calling on the French state to address “systematic discrimination” particularly “the use of ethnic profiling” during identity checks.
If the UN human rights office believed the police killing of the teenager of Algerian descent, named Nahel M., could be the “moment” for an official French reckoning, it proved to be mistaken.
Shortly after the press conference in Geneva, the French foreign ministry released a statement rejecting the UN’s accusation of racism among its police. « Any accusation of racism or systemic discrimination in the police force in France is totally unfounded, » the foreign ministry said.
Race is a thorny issue in France, a nation that has become multi-ethnic since World War II and the subsequent decolonisation of several African and Asian countries.
The atrocities committed during World War II – including the complicity of the Vichy regime in deporting French Jews to Nazi concentration camps – continue to haunt the issue of ethnic and racial identity in France. The post-war state that emerged from the ashes of World War II is officially colour blind, grants equality to all its citizens, and tends to address social inequalities using class or geographic criteria.
But in the geographic neighbourhoods that experience the worst of police brutality and discrimination, that argument fails to persuade ethnically diverse residents.
Violent clashes continued on Friday night, despite the deployment of some 45,000 police officers backed by light armoured vehicles, and a similar number of police will again be on the street on Saturday night, according to the interior ministry.
The ministry said on Twitter that 1,311 people had been arrested overnight, compared with 875 the previous night, although it added the violence was “lower in intensity”.
Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said 30 percent of detainees were under 18.
Looting and rioting took place in the cities of Lyon, Marseille and Grenoble with bands of youths pillaging shops, setting fires and pelting officers with projectiles.
Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said more than 700 shops supermarkets, restaurants and bank branches had been “ransacked, looted and sometimes even burnt to the ground since Tuesday”.
Rioters in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, looted a gun store and stole hunting rifles but no ammunition, police said.
Marseille’s Mayor Benoit Payan called on the government to send extra troops to tackle “pillaging and violence” after three police officers were slightly wounded on Saturday.
Events including two concerts at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris were cancelled, while LVMH-owned fashion house Celine cancelled its 2024 menswear show on Sunday, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
Tour de France organisers said they were ready to adapt to any situation when the cycle race enters the country on Monday from Spain.
Violence also erupted in some French overseas territories, where a 54-year-old died late Thursday after being hit by a stray bullet in French Guiana.
On the small Indian Ocean island of Reunion, protesters set rubbish bins ablaze, threw projectiles at police, and damaged cars and buildings, officials said. Some 150 police officers were deployed there on Friday night.
World Opinions + Agencies